Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tourista in Rivas

On Tuesday I went for a little tour of Rivas. For the last month and a half I’ve been at the offices in San Jorge, the new property near Jinotepe or in Managua for meetings. So I hardly know the town of Rivas.

Technically, I live in San Jorge. San Jorge is a small little suburb next to Lake Nicaragua. The main ferry to the island of Omotepe is located here. Neighboring San Jorge on its inland side is the ‘city’ of Rivas. Miguel, a pequeno who is working at the offices while on break from University offered to take me on a tour.

We started by walking from the offices which are located in a neighborhood to the main street running through town. From there we caught a taxi to the market in Rivas. Now there are many little tiendas in all residential areas selling random snack type foods and miscellanea. They are basically rooms in concrete block houses that have a doorway open to the street. But this was street upon street (although they’re little streets) of shops. There was the women’s clothing area, shoe area, vegetable area, meat area, jewelry area, you get the idea.

I pause to take a photo of whoever passes by as Miguel buys a watch

From there we went to a museum. Miguel doesn’t really like museums, but I was paying and he was my guide so I guess he decided he should own up to the fact that there was a museum. It is officially the ‘Museum of Anthropology and History of Rivas’. There were dusty birds and badly taxidermied cats (one large cat looked like he had a cross between a sneer and a goofy grin) and a fair amount of pottery. The island of Omotepe has been occupied for centuries and has left behind many artifacts that are still being uncovered during current excavations. The museum was pretty much just two rooms, but it was interesting for the small amount of time we spent there and it cost just over $1 for both of us together.

Miguel offers to be the sacrifice to a very surprised looking puma

From there we walked around a bit, past one of the churches (of several) through a nicer part of town which is about ½ of a block long and to the supermarket. The supermarket was my idea. There is only one in town and I wanted to see what was available. It wasn’t part of a chain, and I checked my backpack in at the front desk. With a concrete floor and open shelving it was crowded as we walked through the four short aisles of food. The toiletries/soap/paper goods area was smaller, but a little less crowded except for the line against the wall waiting to do business at the little bank area.

We bought some chocolate milk, which at $1.50 for both of us was more expensive than the museum, and headed to our last stop, the central park. Like virtually all Latin American towns, Rivas has a central park. It takes up about a block of space and has one large gazebo. The rest is made up of walkways and benches and occasional trees. There’s even a swing set (which made me think back to the newly remodeled park next to my apartment in Seattle where the swing set has rubber chips underneath for a softer landing). It was being used by a lot of people to gather, chat, walk, be a community.

Random busy-ness at the park

We joined in by occupying a bench while we finished with our drinks across from another church, then we headed back home in another taxi and back to work!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


On Sunday afternoon Alejandro and Raymundo had a soccer game with the league in town. The best way to get there is by bike (tons of bike traffic around here), but we only had three bikes (and another one of the kids was coming to watch, so there were four of us). They asked me if I wanted to bike or walk. I told them either way was fine with me, that I could bike, but having seen the way they bike carpool, with one person sitting on the top tube and steering while the other person gets the saddle and the pedals, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to be the bikepooler (I’m not sure I could bikepool on a paved road let alone the rutted, rocky dirt backroads we have around here). So we hopped on with Raul and Raymundo sharing and rode over to the baseball/soccer field. With the wind in my hair a short race with Alejandro, I haven’t felt that much like a kid in a long time.

Once there we watched the last couple minutes of a baseball game and then the guys got ready to play. Several men dragged the goals to their places at each end of the field and the whistle blew to get the game started.

We climbed up to the roof of the home team dugout and had a clear, although distant view (we were at the end of the field, not the side). The team did great; we had a lot of opportunities to cheer as we won 5 to 1.

Raymundo (4) and Alejandro (11) walk back to the game after halftime.

After the game we rode to the beach, then we rode on the beach. Close to the lakeshore, the sand is hard enough cars and bikes have no problems, getting off the beach is a different story. With a bike, of course, it’s easy enough to push, but we saw one car where the people standing around descended upon it to give advice after it got stuck.

Raul pedals while Raymudo steers.

After the beach was a few moments at the central park in town (after a quick stop for Alejandro to fix my bike when the chain came off due to overenthusiastic gear changing). There, we picked up water and sat on a bench as dusk quickly turned to dark. Then we rode home to dinner. The only thing that was missing was mom standing outside yelling for us to come in.

Alejandro rides next to me on the beach with a cloud covered volcano behind him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Other 90%

Last week I wrote a post about seeing kids getting water from a well in northern Nicaragua before they went to school in the morning. It felt distantly familiar and completely foreign at the same time and this is why.

This article from the New York Times is how, probably like you, I’m used to seeing the faces of the majority of people in the world, not after breakfast on a roadtrip. And someday, when I return to the US, it will be one of my windows into their world again.

But for now I get to be here, face to face and water bottle to cup with them. See them push and pull their water home, and hear their casual stories. One evening while running with Maricela (without our bodyguards) she told me her simple story about water.

When Maricela was a little girl, she wanted to be helpful to her family. So one day, when she was about 6, her mom brought home a little water bucket. And Maricela ran to the creek to go get water. The bucket was small, but due to Maricela’s many enthusiastic trips to the creek (it was something new!), she still brought plenty of water.

As she grew older her mother bought bigger and bigger buckets for her to carry on her head. And while the newness wore off, it was now a social event, all of her friends went to the creek for water for their families too.

Maricela tells this story much better than I ever could. But it’s captivating to me because I’ve only ever known water gatherers from afar. I’ve seen women walking down the road with buckets on their heads, children staggering away from a stream with a heavy bucket carried between them, but Maricela is different to me. Aside from being a personal friend, she’s a young, strong, intelligent, modern Honduran woman, but still something as basic as gathering water was a large part of her life.

In the US, it’s easy to feel removed from such subsistence. Even the poor get their water through city piping (we can talk about rural and reservation poverty later). But getting water (especially clean water) is an everyday real challenge for billions of your neighbors.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Proud to be an American?

View of Seattle from Queen Anne Hill

For me, Memorial Day weekend was for Folklife Festival in Seattle, for long weekend birthday roadtrips with my best friend, for studying for finals (thank God not anymore). For lot’s of people it’s for BBQs, for camping and for gardening at home. For others still it’s for remembering, for celebrating lives of those now gone and for searching scorching dry farm fields for two fellow soldiers missing now for 16 days, but hoped and prayed for.

Here, of course, there’s nothing of the sort. We just go about our business (I have a meeting in Managua with some German engineers), with plenty of other holidays to keep us occupied. And so this year Memorial Day takes on a different meaning for me.

This is my first Memorial Day with a loved one in Iraq. And this is my first Memorial Day as an ex-pat (albeit temporarily). I’ve never been so far from home for so long, and yet, I’ve never felt more American.

A few weeks back, I was in the van on the way to the airport to pick up some visitors. We drove past a pick-up truck that had a bunch of Americans in the back. How do I know? They were all really white, sort of soft looking, had new water bottles, cameras and high tech sweat wicking fabrics on. Slight chance they were Germans, I ran into the same thing in South Africa, if the people on safari in full khaki regalia weren’t American, they were German.

I noticed the truck right away and felt a little uncomfortable, how touristy! But I asked the others about it later, to get their read on American tourists and they hadn’t even noticed the truck. I think I may be a little sensitive.

About a year ago, I was asked if I was proud to be an American. It’s a question I still struggle with today. Is it possible to be proud to be part of a country that 25 years ago, bullied to utter ruin the country I’m now living in?

But should I not be proud to be a part of a country whose citizens give so many of their resources, time, money, knowledge, care to make the lives of the people here better?

And what are my expectations of those from other countries? Should they be proud despite a government overrun by corruption and scandal? Should they not be proud because the people lift themselves up to survive and help each other every day?

Is it possible to be both? Maybe I don’t want to forget what terrible things my country has done, so that in actually being an American, I never let it happen again. I don’t sit by while the government that has been elected to represent me runs the opposite direction. It’s not easy; I know I’ve been pushed to the side more than once. But it’s certainly nothing compared to what Americans expect citizens of developing nations to overcome on their own every day.

In what way do you exercise your responsibility of how the richest, most powerful nation relates to the world? In the money you spend supporting international companies? By giving time to make your neighborhood a better place? By taking part in local and/or federal politics? Do you know how your representative voted last week on war appropriations?

If nothing else, I think of a bracelet I bought last year at a Christian bookstore. It was all red, white and blue, and I’m pretty sure that the people who made it have quite different opinions about being American than I do, but I sincerely agree with what it said “Pray for the USA”.

Because we, and our leaders need it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Not the Biggest World in the World

View from the Hills above the Chapel

The NPH home (aka Rancho Santa Fe) is about an hour drive outside of Tegucigalpa, but from Nicaragua, it practically felt like a flight home. The temperature cools, the breeze wafts and the towering pine trees cover the high sierras. It was eastern Washington/north Idaho at the end of June.

It’s a place where you can hear the wind coming in the tops of the trees before you feel it.

It almost didn’t feel like a coincidence, then, that the first person I met there, Jim, lives on Whidbey Island in the same small town as my best friend, Carrie, and was pretty sure that he had met her through work. He had volunteered with his family a few years before and was volunteering again during a 10 day vacation.

Rancho Santa Fe has a home for the elderly due to them being a vulnerable population as well. This abuelita took care of me during my stay. She's really little, I swear I haven't grown 2' since I left!

The home itself takes advantage of the climate, there is no glass in the windows, the church is an open (although roofed) amphitheater and all the buildings have open central courtyards.

Excellent well maintained drainage systems at all buildings

I came home with nearly 400 pictures, everything from the vistas to the floor tiling. One of my favorite parts was the material used for the roof. It’s a corrugated fibrous cement board colored the same red as traditional tiles. It’s not nearly as heavy, labor intensive to install or breakable as tile, however, but it also doesn’t conduct heat like similar panels I’ve seen in Nicaragua made out of metal. Anything that doesn’t conduct heat well is a prize.

Yep, Tile floor in the Clinic

During my thorough tour given to me by a girl in her year of service we also regularly stopped and chatted with the kids and staff. It gave me a great opportunity to ask people how they liked the way the buildings worked for them. Normally, when you ask that question, people just give you a weird look. ‘It’s a building. What else is it supposed to do?’ But because we were standing right there I could ask ‘what would you do to improve the laundry area? Is this enough space for all the kids to study?’
Casa Sullapa - Babies House Dining Room
Irina was my tour guide. She normally works at Casa Sullapa. Benjamin looked to be about two and the first thing he did was to grab my camera to look at the display on the back. They certainly know digital cameras!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an experience is worth some factor more. I came away with a great idea of what kinds of buildings work for NPH in Honduras and that brings me much closer to knowing what is going to work here in Nicaragua.

Panorama of Chapel

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Run

Mitcho, Me and Juan Carlos

Juan Carlos (Maricela’s brother) and I watched the Amazing Race together Friday night. It’s his favorite show and while it stresses me out, it’s in English! Afterwards he convinced me to go for a run the next morning with him and Mitcho, a cousin.

Now, I’ve been running with Maricela in the evenings, and while they’re not marathons, it’s more than just walking around the block. But I knew I was in trouble when Mitcho waited for us to get a head start so he could run at his regular pace. I do have several good excuses for what happened (yes, they are still excuses). Nicaragua is at sea level, Tegucigalpa most definitely is not. It was uphill the whole way (at least the whole way out). It’s been six months since I’ve been to the gym (I’m not sure they even have one in San Jorge)!!!

So… I walked. And the boys ran circles around me… literally.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On to Honduras!

We left the offices in San Jorge at 3:15 AM last Friday. Amazingly close to our goal of 3:00! Maybe there was no one awake to distract or maybe they figured if they were going to get up that early, we were leaving when planned! I’m not sure why, but the middle of the night seems to be the time to get stuff done on time!

As we pulled out of the driveway, Marlon prayed to himself several times. On a trip like this, there aren’t guarantees. That’s true in the US too, but between highway assistance, the general tendency for everyone to be inside the car with seatbelts on, and regularly maintained roads, you’re one more step removed from calamity. On our trip it wouldn’t be unheard of to hit an animal in the road (with catastrophic results for both of us), get stopped by a car accident for hours or get pulled over by police for no particular reason. Generally this trip goes fine, but there is just no taking it for granted.

We rode in a white four door Toyota truck, six of us (two who were kids) in the cab and Maricela in the back. She had set herself up on some cushions surrounded by luggage and a small birdcage with a couple of parakeets (gifts for her mom).

I had been hoping to sleep on the trip north; I had only slept a couple hours due to some extreme procrastination on my part the night before. But being in the front seat with the radio and air conditioning on (two things I certainly would have needed if I were driving) meant Marlon and I talked business instead. We talked about the well, about the construction schedule and about what I would find of use in Honduras. The most productive times are often the least expected and we covered a lot of ground, figuratively and literally.

We were all hungry by 7:30, but had already passed Managua. Other than the capital, Nicaragua is mostly small towns that don’t open up for business very early, so we stopped at a gas station convenience store (with a bright yellow ‘On the Run’ sign, they’re all over the place). I had ding dongs and they were heavenly. I’ve had them about four times in my life due to a terribly healthy upbringing, but the chocolate, the cream, the sugar (even though technically, I don’t think it’s really any of those things, it’s better than saying the chemically altered substances!), and all for breakfast!

A little bit north of breakfast, and not too far from the border, Marlon turned off the highway into a little pueblo. I was pretty sure this wasn’t the route to the border, but I decided to just wait and see where we were going.

Soon after heading down a hill and making a couple tight turns with little brightly painted concrete block houses perched right next to the street, we parked and got out of the car. Apparently, if I wanted to join them, we were going to spend a couple moments at the local chapel. So of course, curious, I went along.

After those few moments in a gazebo with letters and plaques hung along the rafters thanking the nearby statue (representing?) the Virgin Mary (not being Catholic I’m not quite sure where the physical statue ends and the spiritual is supposed to begin) for her intervention on some personal matter, we descended along a walkway to a shallow, clear stream. A few kids were getting water from the well next to the stream before going to school (they were all wearing navy blue pants or skirts and white shirts, standard school uniform here). They filled up a blue plastic bucket that had a clay filter in the top of it and a label on the side pictorially showing how to use it. It looked like the kind of thing I’ve seen non-profit in the US list statistics for to prove their effectiveness in giving aid to poor rural communities. There was an internal flash of foreignness; I’ll never have to rely on foreign aid for clean water.

From there, it was back to the highway and not far to the border. I’ve already described that experience a bit. Everything I’ve ever been taught in situations like this is to feign not knowing Spanish at all (which is pretty close to the truth anyway for me). But Marlon, who had told me not to say anything and let him do the talking, ended up pointing me to the building I was supposed to go to and didn’t come along, so I figured I’d have to say something. And the moment it came out, it was in Spanish. I didn’t mean to, it just happened. So we struggled along in Spanish, I think I was pretty convincing in how little Spanish I could speak simply because it was the truth. They all seemed perfectly happy just to be chatting and processed my visa and that was that.

The highly secure Nicaragua/Honduras Immigration Office where you duck down to talk through the little hole at the bottom of the plexiglass

On to Honduras (for real this time)!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

10 Seconds of Honduran Peace

I’m just back from my trip to the NPH home in Honduras. Founded in 1985, it now houses almost 600 kids and they have a reputation of doing things (like raising kids and constructing buildings) well. My purpose in visiting is to see what they’re doing right, what both the kids and staff love, as well as what they would change all in relation to the buildings and infrastructure.

I have more to share about the trip, but today just wanted to give you a little respite. This is to remind you that despite war, hunger and poverty, peace is possible. So here is 10 seconds of it on my doorstep in a country where such a desire, in the face of those realities, is not just a cliche.

10 Seconds of Honduran Peace Video

Friday, May 18, 2007

Internet Cafe

So we left at 3:15 this morning. Terribly early, but amazingly close to what we were aiming for!

We then drove about 5 hours to the border. Immigracion wasn´t too bad, two dollar fee here, three dollar fee there, and they were real genuine official fees. Marlon and Maricela´s kids were different. It took just under two hours for them to deal with the run around and it was pretty expensive too. Then once we got to Tegucigalpa, Maricela went to immigracion and finished tying up the loose ends that remained. I was really glad my visa was straightforward, a little weird (a 5 day visa?), but fine for what I need it for.

Part of the issue is that Dulce Maria (5 years old) and Ashley (4 months) were both born in the States, so they both have US passports. It reminded me of a friend back at the NPHI offices in Cuernavaca. He is from Holland, his wife is from Haiti, but had residency in the US. Her two kids were born in the US, so they have US citizenship and their latest was born in Mexico, so she has dual Mexican and Dutch citizenship. Makes me glad I just have me! It also makes me incredibly grateful for my US citizenship.

I remember when a friend I had met in South Africa was trying to come to the US to run a marathon. I had gotten into his country very easily and here he was, an accountant living in London and because of his South African visa, he couldn´t get into the US! I really take for granted the incredible freedom I have in travel. When I am thinking about where in the world I´d like to go, it doesn´t even occur to me to wonder if I´d be allowed in.

The rest of the afternoon has been spend napping, working and watching TV in English (but with Spanish subtitles!). I´m currently at a nearby Internet Cafe with Maricela´s little brother and another friend from Nicaragua. I´ll head over to the NPH ranch nearby tomorrow. Hopefully I can spell well today because spellcheck isn´t working on this computer!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Little Trip

I've had a little change of plans. I was planning on putting up a post tomorrow, but it turns out we're leaving around 3 tomorrow morning (as in the plan is to leave at 3). So no post tomorrow. I'm heading to the NPH house in Honduras, just outside of Tegucigalpa. It is a large ranch like home and I'm going so that we can hopefully incorporate the most successful parts of the home into our new construction where appropriate. I should be back in touch on Wednesday. Take care!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I know what you’re saying, 'Watch out Nicole, life is not all about the Cordobas!'

I currently have $360 in Cordobas in my wallet. That’s just under $20 American. Gas is about $3.44/gal in American Dollars. A Chinese motorcycle costs about $1,000. A half liter of water is about $.75 American. A cubic meter of gravel is $23. A 50 mile bus trip is $1.50. A 90 meter well with pump is about $17,000. Can you guess what I've been up to? Hint: the Chinese motorcycle has nothing to do with it.

Yep, I'm doing the thing I came here for, to build an orphanage! Right now we're at the beginning of the project. We're fine tuning the master plan, finding a spot to put the well and figuring out who gets to go to Managua to pester the government about permits. We have some funding in place, enough to begin what we're currently doing, but I know there is plenty of preparation of information for fundraising purposes in my future!

On a side note, a few people have asked for a mailing address. I do have one that has worked once; we’ll see if it does again. My mom shipped a package this morning and said the Post Office doesn’t insure packages to Nicaragua, they will to Cameroon, but not Nicaragua. It’s pretty pricey (around $.80/oz for a letter, $.40/oz for a package), so keep those letters light.

I also have a Seattle based phone number you can call to reach me. It rings through to my computer here, so I may or may not be around to answer. I do have voicemail, though, if you’d like to leave a message.

Just send me an email if you'd like the information.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Video for 13th Anniversary

13th Anniversary!

This last weekend was the 13th anniversary of the founding of the orphanage here in Nicaragua. They had celebrations all weekend and Father Phil who heads the organization came for a visit. When I joined them on Sunday, they had already had mass and I was just in time for.... a meeting!

Much of my life is consumed with meetings, but it's always good for me to sit in on them to know what's going on. This particular meeting was with the head of the NPH Nicaragua Board and the mayors of two of the nearest towns on the island. They're wanting to use the NPH property as a technical school/community college once we've left. They have some great ideas, but there are a lot of very important details to work through before we know if this is actually a feasible idea.

After the meeting, the kids put on a dance program. Unfortunately the video is entirely back lit, so it's a little difficult to see, but several different age groups dance. I also had to cut it pretty short because of my bandwidth constraints on uploading video. Lastly, the camera is a bit shaky because I was recording and having some demands on my attention by a 7 year old boy at the same time. A lot of the kids are really friendly and they'll come up, take your arm and put it around their shoulders. Then, because they're kids, they bonk, poke and wriggle around for the rest of the time.

After the program we all ate the most delicious BBQ'd chicken and then about 50 of us headed back to the ferry to ride across the lake to the mainland. It was a great finish to the weekend and good way to celebrate 13th years of taking care of the kids of Nicaragua!

A view of Madera (the smaller volcano) from the ferry dock on the mainland

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother’s Day!

Yep, this is me and my mom. As I’m sure you have guessed, it is not a photo from Nicaragua and it was not taken that recently (sometime during the summer of 1979 in Minnesota?).

While my life has not always been as tranquil as it was in that picture (whose was?), I really have been incredibly lucky to have a great relationship with my mom. On the one hand I don’t want to make everyone gag by enthusing too much. On the other hand, my mom worked really hard at raising my sister and me, did a really great job, and no amount of gag-worthy enthusing could begin to be enough.

I am a cautious person. I like to have everything planned out (there are many people who will attest to this). And I love hanging around the house. Go out for dinner? Maybe, but wouldn’t you rather just make something here?

So what led to me leaving everything I knew (including the language) to do my job in a completely foreign place?

One reason would be my mom.

Now, she’ll deny up and down that it’s partly her fault. With my sister and brother-in-law on the east coast and headed back to Africa in a few years and me here in Nicaragua, she’s not shy to complain about having her children spread all over the place. We’re always happy to remind her, however, that she’s the one who started it by teaching elementary school in Brazil in 1968 right out of college.

Another reason is because one of the most important things to her that we learn was that she always loved us. If we succeeded, she loved us, if we didn’t succeed (failure wasn’t used, just like we were never bad, but there were plenty of times when we were not helpful!), she loved us. No matter what, she loved us. I can promise you that I didn’t fully appreciate this as a kid (and especially not as a teenager). But without a doubt, it is part of the reason I can take a leap into the unknown, taking a huge (although calculated, I’m still me) risk that may or may not end up like I thought it would.

Another thing about my mom is that she has an extreme abundance of maternal energy. After raising my sister and I, this trait, along with a love of music, led her to begin teaching piano lessons and working with community college students for Disability Support Services at Spokane Falls CC. These things have continued to exemplify what I had already learned from her. It is important to think about, and then act on what you can do for others. Generally, it’s best if this is also something you love to do anyway. Also, it’s important to push ahead even if you’re scared or uncomfortable. God didn’t call for us to be comfortable (not that we're called to be uncomfortable all the time either).

Lastly, one thing that she still occasionally has trouble with, but has spent years getting better at, is listening to herself and taking care of herself. In spite of the expectations placed on her as a (now former) pastor’s wife, she has always worked on getting to know herself better and figuring out what she needs to sustain herself emotionally and spiritually. I spent a lot of time before I left the States figuring out what lifestyle would be emotionally and spiritually satisfying to me (it’s an ongoing project) and now that I’m here, I work to make sure I’m able to meet my challenges head on by having the emotional support I need from friends and family. Even so far away, I certainly don’t feel alone.

So Mom, thanks, and no matter what, I love you!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wait… Disneyland?

My maternal grandparents live in San Diego. Growing up, this led to many trips to entertain us grandkids at Disneyland. I remember the Pirates of the Caribbean ride from when I was really little and Thunder Mountain Railroad where the roller coaster/train runs through what looks like the dry reddish mountains of the southwest. I’m also a veteran of SeaWorld, Universal Studios and the San Diego Zoo to name a few.

Due to this, my view of the world occasionally suddenly shifts. For example, on Thursday, we went to Managua to pick up three people visiting the orphanage from Minnesota. They’re all strong supporters in various ways and we wanted to show them a little bit of the area, before they spent the rest of their time at the orphanage.

So we headed on down to Granada, which is on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. It’s an old colonial town and once we got there we took a little boat ride amongst the islands just off the coast. The islands are all tiny, filled with towering trees and the occasional mansion. The moss limply hangs off of branches reaching out over the water and egret looking birds (I’m not sure what they are, but they’re stark white with long necks) wade along the muddy banks. We come to a particularly shallow area and the forest closes in a little on both sides.

This house was built by a German and has since been repossessed by the Nicaraguan government.

Suddenly, I’m on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland.

Is that normal?

This house complex is owned by one of the richest families in Nicaragua, but if I were them, all the people coming by to look at the house would get a little annoying!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Wilma and Eva

I like to cook, especially if it’s for at least 20 people (that comes from my days of cooking at Ross Point Camp in Idaho). But here, meals are provided either by Eva, our cook, or at Marlon’s house.

I never really thought of myself as a picky eater, just extremely opinionated, and I’m certainly willing to try anything. While the food here is good, I’ve been surprised how much I miss food from the US. I’m sure once I get back, I’ll be missing all the food here!

The staple is rice and pinto gallo beans. We have them at breakfast, lunch, and most times, they are dinner. Fruit is abundant and I’ve already OD’d on pineapple several times.

Pinto Gallo, Arroz, Queso, y Crema

One of my favorites is fried plantain. Who wouldn’t like something that is most comparable to a French fry? Generally I eat them with sour cream or fried cheese (yes, a hunk of fat dipped in hot fat). Mmmm!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ferry System

Car Ferry

The ferry system here is a little different than in Washington (as I’m sure you could have guessed). Aside from a much more sparse schedule (there are two ferries, they leave once in the morning and once in the afternoon), there are the docking procedures. The backing up to the dock is skilled, but boring. Watching the workers jump in the water to swim the ropes to shore, however, is much more interesting.

The two ferries mentioned above can hold six cars. You have to climb on the bumpers of the cars to get out once you’ve arrived, but they will fit. There are other random passenger ferries that I haven’t figured out yet. But they’re quite colorful too.

Passenger Ferry

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Luxury of Family

Yesterday I went to mass and the first baptism of Maria Fernanda. Her mom, Miraim, is 21. She grew up at NPH and when she first got pregnant as a teenager, she was taken in by a couple of retired Americans who live in Costa Rica and Willy was born there. Three years later she had another son, Donald, and now, three years after that, she has Maria.

I don’t know where to begin with Miriam. Some nights, she and I sit on the porch chairs, rocking in the dark heat, talking as well as we can with my halting spanish. She is sweet and sad. We talk about general things. She always tells me that I’m pretty and certainly don’t look 28! She pats Maria on the back rhythmically with her rocking until Maria falls asleep.

Willy now lives at Casa Asis, the babies house of NPH as he is only six, Donald lives with his paternal grandparents and soon, and before Maria turns four months old, she will move to Casa Asis as well. Miriam has been offered a job in Costa Rica with the same couple as before, but can’t work, earn money and care for her children at the same time.

Hiro grew up at NPH. He and his girlfriend are now pregnant with their first baby. The same couple in Costa Rica have generously offered him a job as well (as I’m sure you’ve gathered already, good jobs are a challenge to come by in Nicaragua). This means that his girlfriend will live and have her baby with her grandmother in Granada, while Hiro works and lives hours away.

The first time I heard about these arrangements, I was taken aback. I know in my head things are different here, but in a place where Catholicism is the rule, I expected keeping families together would be the priority.

Ahhh, my pampered first world expectations. Food, that’s a higher priority. Shelter, that’s a higher priority. Having enough to eat and a safe place to live are something I take for granted. And honestly, probably always will.

Relationships aren’t inherently easy in first world countries. But our worries are luxurious in comparison to most of the world. We worry about things like good communication, about intellectual challenges, about attraction and inspiration.

I will never truly understand having to choose between love and life. And I am incredibly blessed and grateful for my ability to be ignorant of this.

If you’d like to understand the 200 million migrant workers in the world a little better, please read this -

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Omotepe and Casa Santiago

Concepcion is on the left, Madera on the right and much further away

The main campus for the kids here is on the island of Omotepe, and called Casa Santiago. The island is in Lake Nicaragua and made up of two volcanoes, Madera and Concepcion. Concepcion is the reason I’m here. The day the picture above was taken was the only time I have seen the top of the volcano. It is shrouded in clouds frequently enough that the climate at the top is technically cloud forest, not rain forest, cloud forest.

Apparently, Concepcion acts up every 50 years or so and recently resumed that pattern. I’m not entirely sure what the thought process was when it was decided that the orphanage was to be on the island. Actually, I’ve heard a lot about what it was, but I’m just not sure how I could put it in less than a small report.

People have lived on the island for hundreds of years and just put up with the occasional blankets of ashes, a fair number of earthquakes and constant uncertainty (people who live in poverty get to put up with all sorts of things). Technically, the vent to the volcano is open, and so it doesn’t present a catastrophic threat at the moment, but it is still a threat.

The kids still get to breathe ashes, they still never know if they’ll need to evacuate, and the resources needed for taking goods to the island cause prices to be about 20% higher than on the mainland. So the decision was made to move. Not just because of the situation today, but because NPH wants to be serving this area with the long term in mind.
Here's our motley little crew checking out the boy's dormitory

All my trips to the island so far have been day trips to look at building and infrastructure projects. I was there all day yesterday and will be headed back next weekend for their 13th anniversary celebration, so I'm sure I'll have more to write about the community there then. But since it is the reason I’m here, I wanted to give a little introduction.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


This, apparently, is noni. I found it on the ground while looking at the perimeter of the property for the security wall. At first I thought is was some unhatched alien being. This actually ran through my head, although there was also some thought as to which sci-fi seemed most appropriate.

So, of course, I poked it with my finger. I wasn’t sure if it was hard, or what. To those that think I'm crazy for this, I would like to offer the reassurance that I looked for a stick to poke it with for, like, two seconds.

The thing is, it does have a tiny bit of a skin on it, which just makes you poke harder. This, then causes the skin to rupture and your finger ends up in a white, slimy, waxy, Vaseline like substance. This causes you to step back quickly, where you will realize, as your foot moves toward the ground more slowly than usual, that you just stepped in another one and you’ve now pulverized it (fortunately only!) covering the bottom of your shoe with a Vaseline like substance.

Apparently, it is used in drinks sometimes. That was the only use mentioned to me from the people here, but Wikipedia mentions that it is sometimes called starvation fruit because when people have to, but apparently only when there is an actual famine, people will eat it.

Have a good Saturday!

Friday, May 4, 2007


I’ve just started running again. I ran a little in Mexico, but other than that, it’s been a loooong time. I quit my gym in November after I gave notice at work that I was leaving, so you could say I’m more than just a bit out of shape. The situation for running here isn't exactly ideal. And I don't really love to run in the first place, so I tend to always be looking for excuses. It’s too hot to run during the day, and even nighttime is pretty warm, but I don't get any exercise if I don't just do it.

So a loose group of us (some combination of Cathy, Maricela, Raymundo, Alejandro and I) go running together in the evenings. It’s just like running in Seattle except flat, hot, humid and you occasionally have to walk so that the dogs will stop chasing you.

Raymundo and Alejandro never actually WANT to go running. Maricela decided we needed someone to go with us. I don’t know if it’s because I’m not from here and Cathy’s only 14, or if it just because she thinks we need a guy with us (which I think it actually does cut down on the amount of comments we get from the guys we run past, not that I actually understand what they’re saying), but their year of service has just received and added responsibility – running bodyguard.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Drinking on the Job

One other project I’m working on is building a security wall here at the offices. Right now there is a 2.5 m chain link fence with razor wire at the top. So I was given drawings with details and measurements of the property, no problem right? Well, I haven’t been in construction that long, but I know things can’t be that easy. So I took a look around with a tape measure (because I’m still not too handy at eyeballing distances in metric) and we have buildings and utilities within .3 m of the property line! Definitely not enough space for a 1 m footing.

Aw, well, we’ll figure it out, but that wasn’t the highlight of my day. The highlight was, as I was measuring around the bodega where the guys who take care of the property work, they asked me if I liked coconut. And the last thing I would do is turn down a guy with a machete!

Julio opening the coconut

It was messy, but good and refreshing in the hot and humid weather. There are fruit trees all around the property. While I was measuring along the ground I almost got hit in the head with a falling mango. Fortunately I've never had that close of a call with a coconut.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Year of Service

After my caption on yesterday’s picture (and yesterday's comments), it seemed like a good idea to explain the year of service concept.

NPH provides an education to all their kids. It is customary for them to finish around the age of 16 in most NPH countries. However, breaking the cycle of poverty and abandonment takes more than that.

So if the kids are willing they spend a year serving NPH around the age of 16 to 18. That may be taking care of the younger kids or working on the farm. In the case of the kids I’m around, they work here either in the offices and on maintenance of the property. After that, here in Nicaragua, they go to an NPH house in Managua and go to Secundaria. They usually graduate around the age of 20.

Following that, if they choose, they can perform two years of service after which NPH supports them through university.

There may be special cases, or I may not have it quite right, but this is the general idea. My understanding is from a combination of experience in Nicaragua and Mexico, so it may be a little different in each country.

Each kid’s experience is different because when they come to NPH they may be babies and start at the age of three in pre-school, or they may come at the age of 10 and have no school experience. NPH does it’s best to adapt to each situation and quickly get each child to the level of their peers (quickly as in a year or two).

I was talking to the kids the other day who are in there year of service here at the offices about what they want to do once they get to university (secundaria is still a generalized education). Alejandro wants to study physics (although he doesn’t like math, so we’ll have to talk about that some more), Rookie wants to study music and Raymundo wants to be a doctor.

Who knows where these kids will really end up in life, but there is no doubt that it is a better place than where they’d be without NPH.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

How am I doing?

A lot of people have been asking how I’ve been doing (a fairly understandable question) and I realized that as much as I’ve been talking about the little noticeable things, I haven’t addressed this much more obvious issue.

First, I’m glad I’m here working with NPH. It definitely feels like the right situation for me to be in at this point in my life. I worked a long time to find this opportunity, but at the same time, it also somehow found me. I hate to get all cliché-y with phrases about God, so I’ll just say that my faith has played a large part in me being here.

I’ve begun teaching English for the practice it brings me in Spanish. My students are four 17, 18 and 19 year old boys, and a 14 year old girl. Because of my volunteer position being in existence only for the duration of the construction project, I don’t really come into contact with the other volunteers who all live at the houses with the kids (I live at the offices). So my best friends are currently all under 20 and I can understand about half of what they say.

Alejandro and Mirna, both are in their year of service (all the kids love playing with the camera, the was one of the only photos that wasn't up the nose or insane close-up or just completely random)

We’re still doing preliminary work on the project meaning that we’re in the process of finding architects and engineers to design it. Construction is still a little way off. We do have an architect in Bolivia finishing up a final copy of the master site plan which will designate which areas of the property are for what uses (school are, dormitory area, etc.). It’s slow going right now because everything is just beginning, but things will speed up (and then slow down again, then speed up again, because we’re in Nicaragua!).

So once again, I’ve sort of gotten away from the subject of how I’m doing through all of this. Honestly, it’s a little overwhelming. Two countries, two entirely new groups of people, one new language and one new job in the last two months can take it out of you. I’m tired a lot of the time which makes everything I’m trying to do that much more difficult.

I’ve got time to relax. Everyone here is really nice. Nothing is going badly. It will simply take time for me to adjust. I’ve been talking with some friends and family over the internet (if you have Skype, let me know). I can’t say I’m excited all the time, but I can say that I am where I’m supposed to be, and for that, I’m content.